Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox illness, the virus lies dormant in certain nerve tissue. As people age, it is possible for the virus to reappear in the form of shingles. Shingles is more common in people 50 years of age and older and in people who have weak immune systems. Up to 1 million cases of shingles occur each year in the United States.
A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and follows along the nerve root. The rash lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. The main symptom of shingles is pain, which can be quite severe and persist even after the rash is gone. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.
Treatment of shingles focuses on shortening the length of illness and pain relief. Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, are used to help shorten the length of illness. Pain medications, including topical medications, are used to help relieve the pain associated with shingles.
There is only one shingles vaccine. It is a live, attenuated vaccine.
Product: Zostavax® (Shingles)
Manufacturer: Merck & Co.
Year licensed: 2006
In the Shingles Prevention Study, half of the participants were assigned a single injection of the zoster vaccine and the other half a placebo vaccine. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew who received vaccine and who received placebo until after the study was over. During an average of more than three years of follow-up, the vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by 51 percent: 642 cases of shingles occurred among those in the placebo group compared with only 315 in the vaccinated group. Among all vaccine recipients, the total burden of pain and discomfort due to shingles was 61 percent lower than in placebo recipients.
Zoster vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by 63.9% in subjects aged 60 - 69 years of age and 37.9% in people aged 70 years or older.